The people we love the most hurt us the most, even if they don’t mean to. Mary Hayes Grieco, author of Unconditional Forgiveness: A Simple and Proven Method to Forgive Everyone and Everything, shares how after 25 long years, she mended her broken relationship with her father.
Painful dramas aside, the people in our family are ours for a lifetime, to live with, to learn from, and to enjoy the best we can. All too often, we don’t appreciate the goodness in these people that we see every day, and we take them for granted, like they’re part of the scenery. It’s a shame when we do not realize a family member’s ordinary preciousness until he or she is gone. There is so much more enjoyment to be had in our relationships if we consciously try to see the good in people and take the responsibility to clear out the buildup of irritation that gathers inside us from a series of disappointed expectations.
I am so thankful that I managed to forgive and heal my relationship with my father, which was the most painful relationship I’ve ever had with anyone. He was a practicing alcoholic until I was fourteen. I was the oldest child, and in some ways I took the brunt of that family disease. I don’t need to tell you the whole sorry tale, but in essence, I needed to forgive him for four big things: (1) he was not present for me as an individual because he was drinking and I was one of many children; (2) one time in a drunken blackout, he was very inappropriate with me; (3) he once failed to protect me from harm, and I got very hurt; and (4) after he got sober through Alcoholics Anonymous, he never made amends to me for any of his failings as a father during his drinking years. I worked in a treatment center for a long time and felt that I knew these amends were an important part of the Twelve-Step recovery process. What kind of shoddy program are you working, anyway? I fumed.
For twenty-five years, I hated my father, and my discomfort with him caused me to stay away from my family for a long time. My long-held negative feelings toward him alienated me from my siblings as well. None of them shared my history with him, and they could not understand my negativity toward the sweet, positive guy everyone knew and admired in the present time. When I did come home for a visit, the tension between my father and me was so thick you could cut it with a knife. “Why does Mary hate us?” my youngest sister asked once, after I left.
My father sighed and said to his plate of meat and potatoes, “She doesn’t hate you, honey; it’s me that she hates.”
It took several distinct chunks of forgiveness work, which spanned a period of about five years, to completely heal this broken relationship. My wounds ran the gamut from intense rage about being mistreated while he was still drinking to extremely tender feelings of abandonment and the vague and desolate feeling that my father didn’t like or respect me. I did all of this work privately, as my father had made it clear to me that he was unable to talk about my emotional issues directly. He couldn’t do that with anyone but a few guys in AA. So I had to forgive him for that too.
Each portion of forgiveness that I completed brought new strength and detachment to me and my story. As I healed, a calm, clear flow of unconditional love began to grow between my father and me. Step by baby step, we awkwardly sought ways to connect with each other in sincere goodwill during the last five years of his life. We found our peace with each other in simple moments: watching a basketball game on television or taking an autumn walk around the neighborhood, our conversations and our silences growing increasingly natural. He managed to show me in shy, indirect ways that he did like and respect me, like the time when he grabbed my hand in his arthritic one and squeezed it as I walked by his chair while packing to go to the airport. He couldn’t look at me, and he didn’t say anything—just a quick, intense squeeze, his eyes still riveted on the ever-present newspaper. But what a warm flood of love enveloped me for a moment! By the time he died, our relationship was truly resolved, and my grief for him was soft and easy.